Hello my dear friends!
Guys, I am thrilled to bring you this interview with Jeannie Cunnion. Sending a special thank you to Ms. Stowe and Icon Media Group who made this interview possible. You know I like to feature things that inspire my own growth and creativity. Lately, I have been digging into who the Holy Spirit is, and God orchestrated this magic to happen.
Today, we have an interview where Ms. Cunnion speaks to us about her new book that deals with the Holy Spirit and the power and transformation available to us when we embrace this member of the Trinity in our lives. I feel like we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit enough, which is what makes this book such a relevant and interesting read. You can’t miss this interview. Ms. Cunnion talks to us about her conversion story, dealing with loneliness, a beautiful Bible verse tradition, hot spots in Nashville that you can’t miss and living with power. I hope you are inspired by Ms. Cunnion’s wisdom and inspired to pick up her new book Don’t Miss Out: Daring to Believe Life is Better with the Holy Spirit (out May 11, 2021).
Thank you, Ms. Cunnion, for spending this time with us, and welcome to Modern Witnesses!
Modern Witnesses (“MW”): It is such an honor to have you with us, Ms. Cunnion. After writing several books regarding parenting, what inspired you to write a book on the Holy Spirit?
Jeannie Cunnion (“JC”): Thank you so much. It’s my honor to join you! I have to tell you, this is the book I did not see coming! But that has been the case with each book I’ve written. I’ve never set out to write a book on a particular topic. Instead, I end up writing about the things God is teaching me that are profoundly changing me. And that is what happened with Don’t Miss Out. Several years ago, I began praying a simple prayer. “Lord, I want all of you! I don’t want to miss out on anything you have for me. I want to know the fullness of your love.” And God answered that prayer by stirring in me an unexpected hunger to know His Spirit. God was essentially going to re-introduce me to the Holy Spirit. I immersed myself in Scripture to study the Holy Spirit, and I devoured books by theologians and pastors whose work I respect. And it wasn’t long into that journey that I began to realize this was the next book He was leading me to write. Did I feel inadequate to write about the Holy Spirit? I did! And I told the Lord so! But if I’ve learned anything about God, it’s that He is always faithful to equip us in the work to which He calls us. With trembling fingers, I began to tap out what I was discovering and all of the benefits to having the Holy Spirit that I was missing out on in my own life. So Don’t Miss Out (“DMO”) chronicles my own rediscovery of who the Holy Spirit is, what He does, and why it matters so much!
“I end up writing about the things God is teaching me that are profoundly changing me.”
MW: What is the one thing you want people to walk away with, as they read your book?
JC: When people finish DMO, I pray they will unequivocally know why Jesus said to His disciples. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:7 NIV)
Most of us are neglecting the One whom Jesus said is “for our good!!” but after reading DMO, my hope is that the reader will not only know, but will have experienced, the incredible benefits of the Holy Spirit taking up residence inside us.
MW: Something that sets Christianity apart from other world religions is this idea you touch on of God dwelling in us, as the Holy Spirit, through our acceptance of Jesus. What has this truth meant to you personally?
JC: This has been one of the most important rediscoveries for me because while I knew this truth intellectually, I didn’t realize all He was intended to do in me. I’d love to share a short story with you about this. The Holy Spirit stirred my heart to repentance the night my mom took me to see the Billy Graham movie The Prodigal at a theater in Deerfield Beach, Florida. My motivation for going to the movie with my mom wasn’t receiving salvation. It was getting a bag of Twizzlers and a soda. But my heart was so convicted by the Spirit in that theatre that when we got home, I crawled into bed, overwhelmed with certainty of my need for Jesus. I remember the moment my mom walked into the bedroom to find me under the covers. When she leaned down to kiss me goodnight, I asked her to pray with me. I told her I wanted to put my trust in Jesus and accept Him as my Savior.
Since that moment, I have lived in the confidence that I am saved from condemnation for my sins, and that I am freely given abundant and eternal life in Christ. This is a gift that can’t be earned by anything I do, and it certainly isn’t deserved, and there is absolutely nothing I can do to add to, or subtract from, the work of Christ on my behalf. It’s all grace. This is the salvation narrative—the Good News that changed my life.
What has struck me recently, however, is how the salvation narrative doesn’t typically include the gift we are given in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Why is it that when we share the good news of the Gospel—and how it means we are forgiven and secure for eternity—we don’t tend to also talk about the priceless treasure deposited inside us to live a free and full life infused with the power of God’s Spirit in the present? How I wish I’d heard more about the Spirit’s power for our daily life in my earlier years of following Jesus. Or maybe I did hear it, but I just wasn’t listening. I only recall being familiar with the conversations (and divisions) around the gifts of the Spirit, and I think He got stuck in the “spiritual gifts” box.
This is why I long to see Him woven more into our narrative, because there is no part of the Christian life that isn’t utterly dependent of the Spirit’s power in us. It’s the “in us” that gets me. When we put our trust in Jesus, God puts His Spirit in us! It’s an extravagant exchange, all to our advantage and all for God’s glory.
Paul writes, “He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:14 NIV). See, salvation is a gift we receive—not earn—when we repent and follow Jesus. Likewise, the Holy Spirit is a gift we receive— not earn—when we repent and follow Jesus. How wild to think that belief in Jesus is the only prerequisite to receiving the powerful Holy Spirit inside us.
“When we put our trust in Jesus, God puts His Spirit in us! It’s an extravagant exchange, all to our advantage and all for God’s glory.”
MW: You mention the root word for “helper” (used to describe the Holy Spirit), parakletos, can also mean: “comforter,” “counselor,” “advocate,” “strengthener,” etc. Which is your favorite word used to describe the Holy Spirit and why?
JC: Oh that’s a hard one! What I love is how this word- parakletos– is, like you said, too full of meaning to translate into just one word! Just another reminder that the Spirit is far bigger, and does far more, than we tend to appreciate! He is working in so many ways, from sparking our faith by opening the eyes of our hearts to the rescuing love of Jesus, to sustaining us, strengthening us, speaking to us, and sanctifying us. And still there’s so much more! But if I had to choose, I’d say “advocate” (or champion) resonates with me most. The enemy has done a fabulous job making most Christians assume the Spirit is superfluous our faith, or worse, making us afraid of the Spirit because of how we’ve witnessed His name used and abused. But I can’t help but get excited when I think about how our posture toward Him will change when we realize we’ve been given the most extraordinary Champion in the Holy Spirit.
MW: How has God spoken to you recently, in your life?
JC: Goodness, isn’t this one of the most beautiful benefits of having the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “He will not speak on his own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you” (John 16:13–14 NIV). Sometimes He speaks through the Word, the words of a wise friend, a lyric of a song, or a verse someone passes along. Our job is to learn His voice so we know it’s Him speaking, and this happens by getting into God’s Word and spending time with Him in prayer and conversation. And then testing what we sense with what God’s Word says.
Also, I believe He speaks through giving us peace about the things we pray about. For example, our family has been struggling with whether to take our annual mission trip to Haiti. It’s something we very much look forward to doing every year but Covid has made it extremely complicated and a bit unnerving, and we’ve waivered in whether to go. So we simply began asking the Spirit to give us peace about the trip if it’s the Lord’s will for us to go. Countless things have happened that have led us to believe we are supposed to go in faith. We didn’t hear a voice that said “go” but when we are welcoming the Spirit to live ungrieved in our hearts, we can discern His guidance.
It’s also worth noting He speaks to us through what we call His nudge. It’s that undeniable sense to “do this” or “say that” or “don’t do that” or “repent” or “receive my love.” And the list goes on. We’ve been given this incredible invitation to live sensitive to the Spirit’s direction and presence. We have to have hearts that are tender to His voice. It’s the invitation to live a super-over-natural life. We have the Spirit of God inside us, guiding us and speaking to us. Are we listening, and we courageous enough to follow?
“We have the Spirit of God inside us, guiding us and speaking to us. Are we listening, and we courageous enough to follow?”
MW: You mention your love for Nashville in the book. Other than the boutique you mention, is there a spot you like to eat or a place you would recommend for those visiting?
JC: Oh yes! I have a mad crush on Historic Franklin Main Street. Lunch at Franklin Mecantile. Coffee at Frothy Monkey, and shopping at Imago Dei. Or dinner and live music at Puckett’s.
MW: You discuss loneliness being an epidemic of our time. What would you say to someone who is struggling with loneliness today?
JC: First, I’d say I’m sorry because loneliness is very painful. And I’d encourage them to lean into the comfort and presence of the Person of the Holy Spirit. Because here’s the thing– God put His Spirit in us so that we’d never (ever!) be alone. He is not only with us but in us. And if we think of the Holy Spirit as an “it” or a “force” or we reduce Him to the things by which He is symbolized in Scripture, like a dove, a fire or a flowing river, we will miss out on enjoying His companionship, because you can’t have a relationship with a symbol. So knowing that the Holy Spirit has a mind, will, and emotions, and that He longs to be in friendship with us, changes everything.
I’d also encourage them to find their people. Go first in starting authentic conversation. God created us to live in connection and community, which, for someone like me who is a homebody and introvert, requires real intentionality. But I recognize the benefits. I also know it’s possible to be surrounded by people and still feel lonely, unseen, unknown. I know a lot of moms (especially of littles) feel this way. You are never alone, but you feel terribly lonely.
This is a much bigger conversation than what we can have here but the very real truth is that God sees you, He knows every single thought, fear, dream, and worry in your heart. He knows you better than you know yourself. You are seen and intimately known by your Creator. And no greater joy is found outside the assurance of His love. So welcome Him to invade your heart with the assurance of His presence and unconditional love in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
MW: Something that stood out to me in my own study on the Holy Spirit and something you emphasize in your book is this reminder that the Holy Spirit is a person and not a power. How do you believe this knowledge changes our interaction with the Holy Spirit?
JC: Ha! Well, I think I may have begun to answer that question above, but I’d also add this: He is a Person who gives power to God’s people for God’s glory. We have to be very careful about wanting His Power without wanting Him! God manifests His power in His people by His Spirit. But He will not tolerate us wanting His power for selfish gain.
Let me remind us of a quick but great story from Acts 8:9–23 (NLT) to illustrate this. A man by the name of Simon (often called Simon the Magician) was a well-known sorcerer who astounded the people of Samaria with his magic tricks. But when Philip the disciple came onto the scene in Samaria, preaching the good news of Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, Simon, along with many men and women of Samaria, repented and were baptized. When Peter and John heard this news, they traveled from Jerusalem to Samaria to lay their hands on the new believers and pray for them to receive the Holy Spirit.
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. “Let me have this power, too,” he exclaimed, “so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!” (v. 19). In response, Peter strongly rebuked him and told him to repent for treating God’s Spirit like a commodity that could be bought for personal benefit and fame. Simon’s story shows us that the Holy Spirit’s blessing won’t be bought. His power can’t be purchased. He is a priceless gift given to everyone who puts their trust in Jesus. Do you know what a priceless treasure lives in you? No amount of worldly wealth can purchase the gift of the Spirit’s transforming power. Repentance and faith are the only way. Simon’s story also reminds us that having the Holy Spirit’s power is never about our own fame but for the fame of God’s name, so that others will see what is only possible with God.
“No amount of worldly wealth can purchase the gift of the Spirit’s transforming power. Repentance and faith are the only way.”
MW: Was there something you learned about the Holy Spirit as you were researching and writing your book?
JC: Honestly, I discovered that there was a lot I didn’t know or fully grasp. Even though I have been following Jesus since I was eight years old, I know and believe the core doctrines of Christianity, and I had plenty of exposure to the Holy Spirit’s work as a preacher’s kid in a charismatic church, I didn’t know all of the benefits I was missing out on by not being more reliant on the Spirit’s presence and power in my life. I think that’s how it is for a lot of us. We just don’t know. Some may be avoiding Him on purpose because of stigmas attached to Him, but I think most of us just don’t know the full scope of His purpose in our lives.
When I started writing DMO my main question was “What does the Holy Spirit do?” When I finished writing DMO, my main question was “What doesn’t the Holy Spirit do?” because He is working in so many ways that I don’t think most of us even realize or take advantage of. He has so much to show us and to do in us and through us!
Oh, and here’s the other thing I trust will happen in the reader, because it’s happened in me, and it’s a precious gift. Through this journey, God has been showing me where I have, all along, been experiencing His power and provision and presence in ways I simply didn’t notice before. I’ve seen where He has been empowering me, molding me, convicting and comforting me, guiding and growing me, in ways I would have missed had I not accepted God’s call to write this book for us. It gave me a deep sense of gratitude for how He’s been working even when I didn’t see it. (Isn’t that crazy, though? God doesn’t pout and pull back when we aren’t mindful of or grateful for His goodness. He patiently waits for us to be astonished by Him.)
“Through this journey, God has been showing me where I have, all along, been experiencing His power and provision and presence in ways I simply didn’t notice before.”
MW: “He will bring to memory what has already been stored.” You have a great thread throughout your book that continually reminds us that being steeped in the Word is so important to lead a Spirit-led life. How do you think our lives would be different if we spent more time reading the Bible?
JC: It’s easy to take the Word of God for granted. We get busy. We get lazy. We get distracted. I know this has been true of me. But what is also true is how essential the Word of God is to living a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life. Just as Jesus used “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17) to Satan’s temptation, so we have this help, too. Just as the Spirit was going to help the disciples recall everything they needed to remember, from Old Testament prophecy to the very words they witnessed spoken from the mouth of their Master, so we have this help, too. The Holy Spirit will help us recall what we have read and studied in Scripture. He will bring to memory what has already been stored inside us. That being said, the Holy Spirit can’t remind us of things we don’t know. This is why we need to be steeped in the Word.
I’ve shed some thankful tears as I’ve reflected on how this gift of the Spirit has been active in my life—for how He’s stirred up Scripture in my heart and mind when I’ve needed it most. In heartbreak to comfort me. In a fight against sin to empower me. When I’ve needed to tell shame it can no longer stake claim in my heart. When my kids have needed correction, He brings to memory a verse for training their hearts in godliness, or when my boys need affirmation of their sonship in Jesus (because Scripture was never meant to be just for correction), He brings to memory a verse that speaks of God’s unconditional welcome of them.
When speaking from a stage with a mic in my hand, and when I’ve been speaking on the phone with a friend who needed a word of encouragement, the Holy Spirit has been helping me recall truth stored in my heart. The Holy Spirit brings to mind the promises of God we’ve deposited in the storehouses of our hearts. But He needs material to work with, so let’s give it to Him. With a storehouse filled with the Word of God, we will never be powerless in fighting sin, never lacking an inspired word to share with a friend, and always able to ruminate on the truth that brings life and peace to our minds.
“With a storehouse filled with the Word of God, we will never be powerless in fighting sin, never lacking an inspired word to share with a friend, and always able to ruminate on the truth that brings life and peace to our minds.”
MW: We are a global community, and we love exploring traditions. What is a special tradition you and your family keep?
JC: We have given each of our children a life verse. We have sensed a specific verse impressed upon our hearts for each of our kids when we have prayed and asked God to guide us to the verse He has chosen for His children. Even our son who joined our family from Haiti at the age of 22 was given a life verse that God very clearly laid on my heart for Him. And we have a family verse that I pray over our kids every morning. It’s Ephesians 3:17-20. I pray that they would know the love of Jesus that changes everything.
“I pray that they would know the love of Jesus that changes everything.”
MW: If you had to define Christianity in a sentence, it would be:
JC: Jesus Christ loved me enough to lay down His life for me, and now, I am invited to put all of my hope in the perfection of Christ who covers me with His righteousness and reconciles me to my Heavenly Father so I can enjoy eternal life with Him. This is the Good News!
Get your copy of Don’t Miss Out: Daring to Believe Life Is Better with the Holy Spirit, if you want to keep diving into who the Holy Spirit is and what He can do in you.
Jeannie Cunnion is an author who is well known for writing stories that make much of the wild love of Jesus because of how her life has been rescued by it. Her new book, Don’t Miss Out: Daring to Believe Life is Better with the Holy Spirit, is available now.
Jeannie is also a beloved Bible teacher and sought-after speaker who has been featured on outlets such as the TODAY show, Fox News, The 700 Club, and Focus on the Family. Jeannie, who holds a master’s degree in social work, worked as a counselor and trainer in the adoption field before writing. She is a wife to Mike and a mama to five boys she is crazy about. Connect with her online at JeannieCunnion.com.
Until next time, keep witnessing and LIVE WITH POWER! xx